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Twenty-four Ukrainian sailors who are prisoners of war are political prisoners


We agree with the experts on international humanitarian law that the Kerch incident is an international military conflict, and the Ukrainian sailors who have been detained are prisoners of war.

In November 2018 Russian military personnel attacked and seized three Ukrainian navy ships that had tried to pass through the Kerch Strait to Ukrainian ports on the Sea of Azov. All 24 Ukrainian military personnel on board the ships were arrested, three of them were wounded. The FSB accused the Ukrainian sailors of ‘illegally crossing the state borders of the Russian Federation as part of an organised group’ (an offence under Article 322, Section 3, of the Russian Criminal Code, for which the maximum penalty is six years’ deprivation of liberty).

The 2014 occupation and annexation by the Russian Federation of the Crimea peninsula is not recognised under international law, nor are Russia’s claims to establish its maritime boundary at the 12-mile point from the coast of Crimea beyond which the Ukrainian naval ships entered on 25 November 2018. Therefore, the charge against Ukrainian military personnel of crossing this ‘border’ cannot be considered lawful under international law.

Moreover, according to information confirmed by both Russia and Ukraine, the Ukrainian ships had earlier communicated their intention to cross the ‘border.’

The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, ratified by Russia, does not permit coastal states to arbitrarily ban foreign vessels from passing peacefully through adjacent straits, while the Russian-Ukrainian treaty ‘On Cooperation in using the Sea of Azov and Kerch Straits’ states that ‘military vessels under the flag of the Russian Federation or Ukraine enjoy freedom of navigation of the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Straits.’ Based on these norms, which are an integral part of Russian law, we consider that the Ukrainian vessels not only did not commit any criminal illegal crossing of the borders under international law, but also under Russian law.

We agree with the experts on international humanitarian law that the Kerch incident is an international military conflict, and the Ukrainian sailors who have been detained are prisoners of war.

Under international humanitarian law, sailors and naval officers cannot be prosecuted under criminal law by the opposing side that arrested them for the fact that they took part in a military conflict. They are protected under the Third Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners of war and additional protocols to the Convention ratified by Russia and Ukraine. This view is shared by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

Memorial Human Rights Centre considers the following prisoners of war to be political prisoners: Andrei Artemenko, Viktor Bespalchenko, Yury Bezyazychny, Yury Budzilo, Vladmir Varimez, Mikhail Vlasiuk, , Bogdan Golovash, Denis Gritsenko, Andrei Drach, Vyacheslav Zinchenko, Vladislav Kostyshin, Vladimir Lisovy, Oleg Melnichuk, Roman Mokryak, Bogdan Nebylitsa, Andrei Oprysko, Sergei Popov, Evgeny Semidotsky, Vasily Soroka, Vladimir Tereshchenko, Sergei Tsybizov, Sergei Chuliba, Andrei Shevchenko and Andrei Eider. Memorial Human Rights Centre demands an end to their criminal prosecution and calls for their release, and, prior to that, that they be held in conditions compliant with the provisions of the Third Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners of war.

Recognition of an individual as a political prisoner, or of a prosecution as politically motivated, does not imply that Memorial Human Rights Centre shares or approves the individual’s views, statements or actions.

For more information about this case, see our website.

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Программа: Горячие точки
Программа: Поддержка политзэков

Украинские военные моряки Андрей Артёменко, Виктор Беспальченко, Юрий Безъязычный, Юрий Будзило, Владимир Варимез, Михаил Власюк, Богдан Головаш, Денис Гриценко, Андрей Драч, Вячеслав Зинченко, Владислав Костышин, Владимир Лисовой, Олег Мельничук,